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It is no secret that sharpening and maintenance is an absolutely central tenet to your knife’s longevity.
Given your knife’s importance within your kitchen, surely this is a major part of your culinary routine?
People clean and maintain their beloved knives with a religious zeal. However, they often tend to overlook the condition of their whetstones.
What they seem to miss is the fact that the sharpening process doesn’t just involve the knife. The whetstone is an equal contributor to the process.
So, preserving your whetstone at optimal functionality is just as important an aspect of kitchen maintenance as maintaining your knife.
Fortunately, keeping your whetstone clean and high-functioning is not as complicated as you’d think it to be. In fact, the entire process can be broken down into three main tips.
Read on to learn three best practices for how to clean a whetstone.
How Regularly Should You Clean Your Whetstone?
Alongside learning how to clean a whetstone, you should also have a sense of how much time you need to maintain your whetstone’s condition.
As such, there is no set schedule for you to be cleaning your whetstone upon.
The make of your stone, its grit, the number of times you sharpen your knife, and even the cleaner you use on your whetstone all play a part in deciding when and how frequently you should be cleaning it.
Instead of approaching this in terms of time, do it from the perspective of the whetstone. If you start seeing residual buildup on your whetstone after it’s fully dried, it just means that the pores of the stone have been fully clogged and any remnant metal filings will have to dry on the surface of the stone.
These are what form the whitish-gray residue streaks on your stone.
So, the moment you see streaks starting to appear on your stone, you know it’s time to clean.
How to Clean a Whetstone – Tips to Keep Your Whetstone Clean
The exact nuances of how to clean a whetstone change with the type of stone and the medium of cleaning.
However, there are definitely some universal best practices that ensure respectable stone hygiene.
Oftentimes, these tips form the base over which the specifics of customized whetstone maintenance are built.
1. Remove Clogged Mineral Filings
One of the main reasons your whetstone needs regular cleaning is because of mineral filings.
When you sharpen your knives, the friction from the abrasion causes the minerals in the stone to lather out. This takes form in a sort of chalky paste on your stone’s surface.
Ideally, this paste should wash off entirely when you rinse your stone after use. However, some finer filings get absorbed into the pores of your whetstone and clog them up.
To flush out these mineral filings, you can try using honing oil. Honing oil is a mineral oil that essentially keeps the minerals present in your whetstone from flecking out.
Add a quarter-sized dollop of honing oil onto your stone and scrub it in small circles with an old toothbrush.
Keep scrubbing until you see metal flecks rise out from the pores in the form of a grainy lather.
Wipe the lather off with a damp cloth or paper towel, making sure to get all the lather before it gets absorbed back in.
Rinse the stone under warm running water for at least two minutes so as to remove any stubborn clogs. Pat the stone dry with a towel before leaving it out to dry fully.
2. Prevent Dirt and Grime Accumulation
While it is important to clean your whetstone after sharpening a knife on it, dust and grime are bound to accumulate on your stone despite your hardest efforts.
This applies more to older stones that have not been used in a while and thus have collected dust within their pores.
Instead of deep cleans once in a blue moon, it is more effective for you to keep to a simple cleaning on a more regular basis.
An extremely important part of this routine is WD-40, an oil spray particularly effective at penetrating tough surfaces.
Give your whetstone a thick, even coating of WD-40 and let it settle in for a couple of minutes.
When spraying, make sure you do it in a well-aerated room as WD-40 does have mild oral toxicity.
Scrub your stone’s surface gently with some steel wool until you start to see the oil and other gunk come to the surface.
Wipe the debris off with a towel, and re-scour the stone until you can’t see any more grime come out of your stone’s pores.
Wipe away any remaining WD-40 on your whetstone before finally cleaning it with a damp towel.
During the cleaning process, the debris clogged within the whetstone seeps out in all directions.
While you might be able to wipe off the muck on the upper surface, what about any drippings out of pores on the bottom plane?
Keep either a paper towel or a cloth underneath your whetstone to absorb any dirt it would otherwise drip onto your work surface.
3. Keep a Flat Plane
With continued use, your whetstone tends to dip in the center. This diminishes its effectiveness and makes it easier for grime to clog its pores.
It’s thus common practice to flatten out your stone at least once every ten uses and to flatten it for about 15 seconds before every use.
Typically, there are two routes you can take when trying to flatten your stone.
Flattening a Whetstone with a Flattening Plate
The most common method to flatten a whetstone is to use a flattening plate or flattening stone.
Flattening plates often come along with the purchase of your knife.
If you want to be able to round corners or just want more control over where you’re flattening your whetstone, you can also use sandpaper. 100 grit wet-dry sandpaper should suffice.
Keep the stone lubricated with either water or honing oil. Sand it over either the flattening plate or a piece of sandpaper glued down to a surface.
Keep in mind that the coarser you stone, the more grease it will need.
For instance, synthetic stones are distinctly more coarse than most natural stones, and so water is not enough to lubricate them.
Most such stones need oil to make the flattening process efficient.
Flattening a Whetstone with a Nagura Stone
If you think authenticity is the only true path to follow, you could try the original Japanese practice of using a harder stone to smoothen out your whetstone.
This technique, though more effortful on your end, is gentler on your whetstone and will allow it to last longer.
A commonly used rock for such purposes is the Nagura stone, which you can find in both natural and synthetic forms on the market.
Simply move your Nagura stone over the stone gently in back-and-forth motions until you feel your stone’s surface become even.
If you see any embedded metal filings, you’re far from done. Aside from evening out the surface, using a 400 grit sandpaper to smoothen out and scratches and get to some stubborn metal filings will help you towards a smooth finish.
Another issue when flattening your stone is that it can move with from the force of the plate or the sandpaper as it is being evened out. This is particularly problematic because doing so you are bound to make your stone even more uneven than when you started out.
Holding onto your stone to keep it in place is a perfectly valid option, but keeping a rubber mat underneath is equally effective.
How Do You Maintain a Whetstone?
How to clean a whetstone isn’t the only thing you need to know when handling knives; making sure that your clean stones are well maintained for longer durability is also a staple in knife etiquette.
Aside from the above tips on whetstone hygiene, soaking your stone in water for 30 minutes before sharpening helps keep it hydrated throughout the sharpening process.
If your stone is softer, you can use honing oil in place of water as a way of keeping the minerals from getting stripped too easy.
Another very good practice is to regularly flip your stone end to end when in use.
The sharpening process leaves you no choice but to lean heavily on one end. This means that one edge of your whetstone is worn down more than the other.
Flipping your stone mid-use helps keep the surface flat and even helps with its longevity.
Takeaway – Sharp Knives and Crisp Slices
Now that you know exactly how to clean a whetstone and how frequently to do so, knife maintenance should become a far easier aspect of your kitchen experience.
After all, it is common knowledge: behind every sharp knife is a clean whetstone.